According to the NHS, there may be as many as 450,000 people who have an addiction to gambling in Great Britain.

The anticipation and thrill of gambling creates a natural high that can become addictive, and with the internet now making gambling more accessible, allowing more and more people to do it from home, there is a higher danger of gambling behaviours getting out of hand and leading to financial, emotional and relationship problems.

There’s often a common link between gambling and other addictions, particularly alcohol abuse. Rates of depression and attempted suicide among gambling addicts are consistently higher than the national average. This is not surprising because people who already feel depressed and empty may try to create a “buzz” by addictive behaviours, but the addiction only causes more problems in the end. Whether you bet on sports, scratch cards, poker, or fruit machines —in a casino or online—problem gambling can strain relationships, interfere with work and lead to severe financial problems. You may even do things you never thought you would, like stealing money to gamble or pay your debts. Gambling addicts are therefore also more likely to go to prison as a result of criminal activity. You may think you can’t stop but, with the right help, you can overcome a gambling problem or addiction and regain control of your life. The first step is recognising and acknowledging the problem. You are not born with it and it is a deep-seated emotional problem that can be overcome.

Understanding gambling addiction and problem gambling

Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling, is a problem that involves an emotional impulse that is hard to resist. . Compulsive gamblers without the right help can’t control the impulse to gamble, even when they know their gambling is hurting themselves or their loved ones. Gambling is all they can think about and all they want to do, no matter what the consequences. Compulsive gamblers keep gambling whether they’re up or down, broke or flush, happy or depressed. Even when they know the odds are against them, even when they can’t afford to lose, people with a gambling addiction can’t “stay off the bet.” Like any addiction, compulsive gambling can be reduced with a range of psychological and therapeutic approaches (including cognitive-behavioural therapy), so feel safe in the knowledge that there IS a way out of gambling addiction, even if you may feel that you have nowhere to turn.

Gamblers can have a problem, however, even without being totally out of control. Problem gambling is any gambling behaviour that interferes with your life. If you’re preoccupied with gambling, spending more and more time and money on it, chasing losses, or gambling despite serious consequences, you have a gambling problem. Problem gambling can be helped in the same way as addictive gambling.

Specialised addiction services that focus mainly on substance misuse will often also help with gambling problems. They use similar approaches to deal with gambling addictions to those that they use with substance misuse.

Get help if you think you have a problem

Gamblers Anonymous

Gamblers Anonymous uses the same twelve-step approach as Alcoholics Anonymous and also has a support group for relatives called Gam-Anon.

CNWL National Problem Gambling Clinic

If you live in England or Wales and are over 16, you can refer yourself to the only specialist NHS clinic for problem gamblers. For more information, visit the clinic’s website.


The main support organisation in the UK is GamCare, which runs a national telephone helpline and provides face-to-face counselling.


A support and information site run by GamCare specifically for young people aged 12 – 18

Could someone you know have a problem?

GamCare: supporting a problem gambler

People who support a friend or relative with a gambling problem, and share your own experiences.


Help and support if you’re affected by someone else’s gambling problem, including how to recognise the signs and where to find your nearest meeting. Amended and accredited by Martin Seager CPsychol AFBPsS 2nd Feb 2014